Tag Archives: moving on

The myth of “one year”

“While medications may help to allay some symptoms of anxiety and depression, we hear over and over from those taking tranquilizers and antidepressants that their symptoms persist or, in some cases, are worse. As noted bereavement therapist, Peter Lynch, MSW, said at an annual Holiday Service of Remembrance, referring to the many feelings associated with grief, “The only way through it is through it.” Medication doesn’t make the pain of grief go away. Clients need to understand this important point.”

http://psychcentral.com/lib/grief-healing-and-the-one-to-two-year-myth/

The only way through it is through it. And for some of us the second year is worse. How can that possibly be? Can I really hurt more than I hurt now? Maybe you are really feeling it, really overwhelmed by the pain of it. But for some people those first few months, that entire year of firsts, is survived in a state of withdrawal from feeling, as if you are observing yourself going through the motions. And after some months it is possible that the defenses start coming down and the reality of the pain begins to be felt. For me it was just a week before I felt it. The day after the funeral. That was when my numbness receded. I was overwhelmed and had to be hospitalized. But for some a whole year can be spent in emotional separation, distanced observation, numbness. As your psyche hopes to build up strength for when the pain becomes more real and the fantasy of “it can’t be true” finally breaks down.

I imagine it must be much harder to resist that fantasy if you don’t get to see your loved one before burial. For example if they die overseas in a military conflict and there are no remains to view. I do believe in the value of that last viewing, of the emotional closure it allows. But me, I couldn’t watch as they closed the casket; I couldn’t watch as they lowered him into the ground. That much reality was too much for me. I was still in the distanced observation stage.

So be kind to yourself. Don’t set expectations on your grief. And don’t allow others to give you a time limit. We each have our own path to take. Just don’t take it alone.image

Hope in Seasons of Loss

traces of hope

How do I process my grief?
Does suffering have any meaning?
Do we live in a random chaotic universe?
Is it time to re-evaluate my understanding of “God”?

This book is for anyone who has suffered a loss – of safety, of one’s home, of health, of a loved one or a relationship, or of one’s faith … and found themselves asking, “Why?” And then wondering, “Who am I asking?” and hoping they were not alone.

http://www.amazon.com/Traces-Hope-Surviving-Grief-Loss/dp/1937943275

Calendars

I feel like I am in an emotional loop, moving from funerals to anniversaries to funerals to Mothers Day to Birthdays, Deathdays … maybe it is time to set the calendar aside or maybe it is time to mark different kinds of events. I don’t know. I just feel stretched thin, emotionally translucent, yet somehow numb.

Today is Malcolm’s Birthday. He would have been 30. I like to imagine what he would have been doing, where he would have been living.  Maybe teaching, with photography on the side. Maybe living in a cottage in Old Jefferson and coming over for Sunday lunch and leftovers to bring home.  I like this fantasy. It warms my heart.

If only…

From Faith to Doubt to … Hope

This is a draft of an introduction to my next book. I would very much appreciate feedback.

Natural disaster, institutional evil, the suicide of a loved one. The experience of each of these tragedies results in grief and loss: denial, anger, blaming, depression, and eventually, so the theory goes, acceptance and renewal of hope – a new beginning. In the face of tragedy, understanding the common stages of grief and loss can offer victims some sense of order in an otherwise chaotic emotional landscape. But what if, while reeling under the impact of a tragedy, we also face the loss of our religious faith, and along with it the very structures of meaning that have held us together for so long? What if we find ourselves doubting the goodness of our church, the existence of God, the purposeful nature of creation, the meaning of life, the very possibility of hope?

Three separate tragedies – Hurricane Katrina, the Catholic abuse scandal, the loss of a son to suicide – connected through the common ground of grief and loss, and carrying in their wake a profound challenge to religious faith. This may seem too wide a topic for a single book, but it can’t be: this book is not an intellectual exercise; these tragedies tell the story of my life. The questions I raise here surface from the depths of my own grief and sorrow and from my desperate need to reclaim hope, the hope I once relied on, the hope I tried to offer my students, the hope that my son wrote of, even as he prepared to die.

If you are looking for a story of spiritual transformation, a wrenching tragedy followed by a poignant renewal of faith, then this book is not for you. If you need to find immediate comfort, and the reassurance that God has a Plan and everything happens for a Reason, this book will not serve you well. I’m telling you this because I don’t want to cause any more pain: grief and loss are too damn difficult already. But if you are grasping for a raft in the midst of overwhelming tragedy, emotional chaos, or spiritual drought, if you are disillusioned with organized religion, and not even sure about God, let alone God’s plan, then we are on a similar journey and maybe we can share the road for a while.

Typically, spiritual odyssey stories generate speaking engagements, t-shirts, and affirmation cards. They take the reader from the pain and chaos of suffering, sin, and loss to the comfort of forgiveness and the renewal of faith. This story travels in the other direction: from a career teaching theology and leading liturgical music — feeling that I was in God’s hands — to the desolation of suddenly feeling that God had let go.

I used to readily call myself Catholic; now I don’t know what label fits. If “Catholic” can be a cultural descriptor, the way “Jewish” is for many Jews, then I am certainly Catholic. I was born and raised in the Church, received all the relevant sacraments, earned two degrees from Catholic universities, taught theology for nearly three decades in Catholic schools, and raised two sons in the Church. I would not hesitate to check “Catholic” on a census or on a hospital admissions chart. Nonetheless, I am currently ambivalent about God and find it too distressful to attend Church with any regularity.

My story will not nurture a soul hungry for immediate spiritual enrichment, but to those who are struggling to make sense of suffering and God it offers the consolation that you are not alone. It may even help you let go of the guilt of doubting God. And for those who are searching for some sense of meaning and purpose when life seems devoid of any, perhaps it will even offer you a little hope. That is certainly my hope.

Spring cleaning

Grief, like spring cleaning, is all about baby steps. Last week I decided to sort through a desk drawer and made piles, what was important enough to keep and what I was willing to part with. And then my husband sorted through the discards and pulled out a map of Austria, Malcolm spent a summer there, and a pair of nail clippers, Malcolm cut his nails with those. I know, that might seem morbid – nail clippers. But after those first horrific hours passed and it began to sink in that we would never see him again, I collected his hair from the drain in his shower; if I had found nail clippings I would have kept those too.

It has been four years, as of yesterday. Four springs when we have asked ourselves, are we ready yet? Is it time to clean out his room? Timing is very delicate here. When my husband washed my son’s sheets a few weeks after he died, it nearly put me back in the hospital. How could he decide to get rid of any of Malcolm’s smell. How could he? I was hysterical, hardly able to breathe through my sobs. Now only traces of his musky odor linger … a camping jacket, a knitted cap. And our younger son’s friends have slept in Malcolm’s bed during Mardi Gras visits, and I have replaced the sheets.

Going forward there will be hundreds of decisions to make. Every article of clothing, every note, every memento. His desk contains fragments of the life of the boy and the man, from grammar school to graduate school. Every one of them precious, every one of them a tenuous connection, every one of them holding out the elusive hope of an answer. What if there’s a letter hidden between pages of a book, a note in a pocket? Some revelation of a broken heart or a paralyzing fear. But did he really know why, on that day in March, 2007, just three hours after handing in a paper to his professor, he took a gun and shot himself through the heart?  I’m not sure any more.

I think this spring what we need to let go of is our need for an answer. Maybe then we will be able, finally, to let go of Malcolm’s things. But not this year. Not yet.

Kiss the Joy

The end of another year. Time to reflect. How have we done, what have we done, who have we “done” and why? 

  • Have we used our grief as an excuse to do less, expect less, care less, hurt more? 
  • Have we allowed the one we lost to determine our joy instead of those we still have in our lives? 
  • Have we let fear of more pain hold us back from making changes or  commitments? 
  • Have we resigned ourselves to sadness and befriended depression because it is just so damn easy to do so?
  • Have we forgotten our “bliss”?
  • Have we bound ourselves to the joys that were, instead of putting effort into creating or pursuing new joys?

“He who binds to himself a joy
does the winged life destroy;
but he who kisses the joy as it flies
lives in eternities sunrise!”
                                      William Blake

Throwing out the olives!

Last night I threw out a jar of olives from the fridge. They were out of date by three years and looked like a science experiment. But it was still hard to throw them out because they were Malc’s. Silly, I suppose, but there you are. Mal paused too, but I said, “You know we can’t keep everything as a souvenir.”  He said, “I know, I know.” And I am pretty sure he was thinking about the one inch of rum left in a bottle that was Malcolm’s, and how he is not ready to drink it or throw it away. But we take baby steps. Yesterday it was olives.